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Home arrow Environment arrow Bats in the Anthropocene: Conservation of Bats in a Changing World

Zoonotic Viruses and Conservation of Bats

Karin Schneeberger and Christian C. Voigt

Abstract Many of the recently emerging highly virulent zoonotic diseases have a likely bat origin, for example Hendra, Nipah, Ebola and diseases caused by coronaviruses. Presumably because of their long history of coevolution, most of these viruses remain subclinical in bats, but have the potential to cause severe illnesses in domestic and wildlife animals and also humans. Spillovers from bats to humans either happen directly (via contact with infected bats) or indirectly (via intermediate hosts such as domestic or wildlife animals, by consuming food items contaminated by saliva, faeces or urine of bats, or via other environmental sources). Increasing numbers of breakouts of zoonotic viral diseases among humans and livestock have mainly been accounted to human encroachment into natural habitat, as well as agricultural intensification, deforestation and bushmeat consumption. Persecution of bats, including the destruction of their roosts and culling of whole colonies, has led not only to declines of protected bat species, but also to an increase in virus prevalence in some of these populations. Educational efforts are needed in order to prevent future spillovers of bat-borne viruses to humans and livestock, and to further protect bats from unnecessary and counterproductive culling.

Introduction

Over the past decades, the emergence of zoonotic viruses (those that are naturally transmitted between vertebrate animals and humans) from bats has been the subject of increasing attention from both scientists and the general public (e.g. Quammen 2013). During outbreaks of diseases in humans and livestock, bats are now often the primary focus of searches for a reservoir host (Chua et al. 2002a; Leroy et al. 2005; Li et al. 2005; Halpin et al. 2007; Towner et al. 2007; Lau et al. 2010; Wibbelt et al. 2010; Memish et al. 2013). Identification of bats as natural hosts for emerging viruses has important implications for bat conservation. We review the current state of research of four important families of emerging zoonotic viruses for which bats are natural reservoir hosts and discuss direct and indirect conservation implications.

 
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